This article draws on our experiences of carrying out PhD research on migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all involved with the University College London Migration Research Unit (MRU), and our PhD research explores the lived experiences of migrants and people affected by migration. This is the first of two articles in this issue of Migration and Society addressing the implications of COVID-19 on migration research from the perspective of postgraduate researchers. In this article, we firstly reflect on how “crises,” including the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably shape contexts of migration research. We then share how COVID-19 has shaped our relationship to “the field” and our formal research institutions. Finally, we share how we have adapted our methodologies in response to COVID-19 and, considering the complex ethical and practical challenges posed by this context, reflect on what it means to make methodological “adaptations” in times of overlapping crises.
Migration Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Aydan Greatrick, Jumana Al-Waeli, Hannah Sender, Susanna Corona Maioli, Jin L. Li, and Ellen Goodwin
Carrie Ann Benjamin, Heike Drotbohm, Carolin Fischer, Witold Klaus, Alexander Kondakov, Annika Lems, Yelena Li, Nina Sahraoui, and Ioana Vrăbiescu
ADVENTURE CAPITAL: Migration and the Making of an African Hub in Paris. Julie Kleinman. 2019. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. 224 pages. ISBN 9780520304406 (hardback); ISBN 9780520304413 (paperback).
PAPER TRAILS: Migrants, Documents, and Legal Insecurity. Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman, eds. 2020. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 264 pages. ISBN 9781478008453 (paperback).
ARC OF THE JOURNEYMAN: Afghan Migrants in England. Nichola Khan. 2020. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 288 pages. ISBN 9781517909628 (hardback).
EU MIGRATION AGENCIES: The Operation and Cooperation of FRONTEX, EASO, and EUROPOL. David Fernández-Rojo. 2021. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. 272 pages. ISBN 9781839109331.
Queer Migration and Asylum in Europe. ed. Richard C. M. Mole. 2021. London: UCL Press. 262 pages. ISBN 9781787355811.
FINDING WAYS THROUGH EUROSPACE: West African Movers Re-Viewing Europe from the Inside. Joris Schapendonk. 2020. New York: Berghahn. 230 pages. ISBN 9781789206807 (hardback).
ILLEGAL: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All. Elizabeth F. Cohen. 2020. New York: Basic Books. 272 pages. ISBN-13 9781541699847 (hardback).
THE OUTSIDE: Migration as Life in Morocco. Alice Elliot. 2021. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 204 pages. ISBN 9780253054739 (hardback).
WASTELANDS: Recycled Commodities and the Perpetual Displacement of Ashkali and Romani Scavengers. Eirik Saethre. 2020. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. 252 pages. ISBN 9780520368491.
Maria Nerina Boursinou, Pierre Monforte, and Phevos Simeonidis
In this interview with Nerina Boursinou and Pierre Monforte, Phevos Simeonidis—cofounder of the Disinfaux Collective—reflects on the role of civil society organizations in the field of refugee support in Greece, in particular through the focus on their relations with public authorities. The interview provides an account of the changing environment in the field of migration and the diversity of the organizations working to support refugees in Greece, while it highlights such organizations’ ambivalent relations with public authorities. Moreover, the interview discusses the impact of the measures taken by the Greek government(s) to control or repress the activities of civil society organizations in recent years, including their criminalization. Finally, it makes reference to the complex ethics that accompany migration research and support practices, especially in relation to the collective’s operation and decision-making processes.
Yousif M. Qasmiyeh
Returning to the refugee camp, “The Crack Invites” revisits what it means to invite and be invited to a camp. This invitation remains suspended, unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable to this day.
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Mette Louise Berg
Since the publication of our last issue, which included special sections on The Stakes of Sanctuary and Religion and Refugees, COVID-19 has continued to disrupt peoples’ lives and rhythms in multiple ways around the world. Vaccination programs have enabled many people in Europe and North America to start traveling again for work, to visit family, or for pleasure, yet long-standing global inequalities and inequities have persisted, with deadly effect. At the time of writing (end of February 2022), while 79 percent of the populations of high- and middle-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose, only 13 percent of people in low-income countries have been able to access the vaccine (Holder 2022), reflecting what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu (Director-General of the World Health Organization) calls global “vaccine apartheid.”
The Role of “Voluntariness” in the Governance of Migration
Reinhard Schweitzer, Rachel Humphris, and Pierre Monforte
This article introduces the theme and scope of this Special Themed Section on the role of ‘voluntariness’ in the governance of migration. It provides an overarching framework for defining and operationalising the notion of voluntariness in the field of migration studies; and for investigating how voluntariness works across different sites, situations and in distinct national contexts. We understand voluntariness as a general principle and instrument that (re)produces the active participation of different actors across society in the (state-driven) management of migration. This focus leads us to explore key dimensions in the shifting (neo-liberal) governmentality of migration in contemporary societies. The introduction makes the case for bringing together seemingly disparate examples and case studies in order to shed new light on how certain ascribed meanings and understandings of voluntariness can shape the actions of very different subjects involved in contemporary bordering processes.
An Intersectional Approach to Exploring “Voluntary” Return in Toronto, Canada
During the near decade of Conservative rule in Canada from 2006 to 2015, anti-refugee and anti-migrant discourse was continuously circulated by government officials. Social, economic, and physical restrictions were implemented based on the dichotomy of “deserving” versus “undeserving” migrants, and borders were created within communities. This article takes an intersectional approach to explore the reasons that some migrants chose to leave Canada “voluntarily” during that time, and the factors that forced them to do so. I offer the concept of forced-voluntary return to capture some of the tensions and messiness within migrant experiences that are neither completely voluntary nor forced. These tensions affirm the emerging calls in research to conceptualize migration on a spectrum from forced to voluntary, and contribute to understandings of migration management, the production of deportability, and the “voluntary” mobility of migrants by highlighting some of the ways in which intersecting identities impact migrants’ decisions about return.
Personal Encounters and Bordering Processes in the British Refugees Welcome Movement
Pierre Monforte and Gaja Maestri
This article examines the complex and ambivalent nature of the encounters between British volunteers and refugees within the 2015 Refugees Welcome movement. The 72 interviews we conducted with volunteers active in different charities and informal networks reveal the significance of the logic of trust in these encounters. We show that although participants often base their engagement on claims that disrupt dominant narratives about border controls, they also tend to endorse and reproduce bordering processes based on the perceived trustworthiness of refugees and, sometimes, exclude some groups from their support. Taking insights from the literature on encounters and critical humanitarianism, our article highlights from a theoretical and empirical perspective how “ordinary participants” in the refugee support sector can subvert humanitarian borders, but also participate in the construction of new types of borders based on domopolitics. More generally, the article aims to highlight civil society’s voluntary participation in the governance of migration.
Zeynep S. Mencutek
The increasing salience and variations of “voluntary” return techniques have not yet been thoroughly investigated in the context of Global South countries, which host the majority of displaced people. As the largest refugee host and transit country, the case of Turkey provides important insights on the role that these instruments and the very notion of “voluntariness” play for migration governance. This article specifically looks at how Turkey develops and implements its own “voluntary return” instruments. The analysis illustrates different ways in which “voluntary” returns are being institutionalized at central state and substate levels across the country. It shows how these national mechanisms are imposed at multiple sites, while also being diffused as practices in everyday interactions with refugees across the country. The arguments I put forward arise from qualitative research that combined mapping of policy papers, national legislation, and interviews with returnees and other relevant stakeholders.
(Non)Knowledge Production about Refugee Accommodation Quantifications in UNHCR’s Global Trends Reports
The Global Trends Reports represent UNHCR’s key tool to share information about annual developments in relation to displacement, primarily through numbers. Among the many subjects covered, they often also address different forms of accommodation. But how do such quantifications produce (non)knowledge and link with the humanitarian landscape? This article explores accommodation categories, quantifications, and local categorizations as presented in the Global Trends Reports published from about 2003 to 2020. While the numbers appear to display precise knowledge on refugees’ whereabouts, gaps prevail in the reports: accommodation categories remain undefined, calculations are partly unclear, and local recategorizations occur suddenly without explanation. This article argues that these issues produce nonknowledge, and that the reports’ continuous attention to accommodation data simulates refugees’ controllability and governability.